Don’t Call It a Comeback: Elaine Stritch Returns to NYC

Elaine Stritch.

Elaine Stritch.

This past spring, Broadway legend Elaine Stritch announced she was ending her 71-year stint in New York City to move home to Michigan. At 88 years old, the actress claimed she was simply exhausted.

On Monday night, Ms. Stritch found the energy to trek back to the Big Apple for the Stella by Starlight gala hosted by the Stella Adler Studio of Acting—where Ms. Stritch trained in her younger years, and to which, just recently, she donated a lifetime of theater memorabilia. The gala was honoring Ms. Stritch with a special ceremony, and Ms. Stritch—as everyone knows—is never one to turn down a starring role.

Our inner drama geek glowing, the Transom made our way to Midtown West’s Espace. There was the fabulous Liza Minnelli, who tottered down the press line in a sassy leather jacket. There was James Gandolfini, whose sheer size was imposing. And there was Alec Baldwin. But they were just the opening act; finally Ms. Stritch entered the room—clinging to the arm of Bernadette Peters, no less—in a floor-length black dress and her trademark black hat.

As any Broadway aficionado will tell you, Ms. Stritch has been acting and singing on the Great White Way for over six decades. After debuting in 1946, she made her breakthrough performance singing “The Ladies Who Lunch” in 1970’s Company. Since then, she’s starred in countless stage productions as well as in films and on television, recently appearing on 30 Rock as Jack Donaghy’s grouchy mother.

“What do you miss most about New York?” we asked Ms. Stritch. There was a long, long pause—we half-expected her to break into song—and then she answered: “Attitude.”

Would she elaborate?

“I mean that people’s attitude lifts them above all the shit in life,” she said. “Their attitude is good. It’s healthy. You know what I’m talking about?”

Yes, we answered, we thought we did.

“I think you do too,” she said, with a knowing wink.

Ms. Stritch wasn’t the only honoree of the evening. There was also George Takei—once a star of Star Trek, now a star of Facebook—and legendary composer Stephen Sondheim.

We couldn’t resist telling Mr. Takei that he had a beautiful smile and asking how he stayed so happy all the time.

“Well, you know, we’re surrounded by this human comedy,” he said. “We get so wound up and so serious about whatever we’re working on, but when you look at it in the larger context, it’s silly.”

Speaking of silly, we had to know: who did he think was the hottest guy on Broadway? “I saw the Roundabout Company’s Picnic, and the guy that plays the drifter in that [Sebastian Stan] has a hot body!” Mr. Takei said, before exploding with booming laughter.

As for the ceremony, Suburgatory’s Jane Levy and 30 Rock’s Keith Powell led the proceedings until Ms. Stritch took the stage.

The entire ballroom was silent, rapt with attention as Ms. Stritch told heartfelt stories of her early years in theater, studying under Stella Adler herself. In true diva form, Ms. Stritch put no restrictions on her notorious sass and bite. “I wanted to be submersed in the theater for the rest of my life, and I’ve come pretty close, haven’t I?” she said. “If I hadn’t fallen on fucking Madison Avenue, I would be jumping up and down up here. I’d give my cane to Bernadette.

“I’m so tired,” Ms. Stritch added, explaining her retirement, “It’s the simplest reason in the world. I’m exhausted … All you have to do is say, ‘I’m going home,’ and you’re the most popular girl at the party.”

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